21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
1901 ASV Translation:
21 I do not make void the grace of God: for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nought.
I. Paul's Response to Hypocrisy.
A. He "saw" that their behavior and the Gospel were in opposition.
B. He "said" to Cephas in the presence of all... . Paul determined to address the problem in public because it was not only a distortion of the Gospel, it was also a public humiliation for all of the Gentile brethren.
1. If you, being a Jew, are living in the manner of a Gentile and not in the manner of a Jew, how do you compel the Gentiles to live as Jews? [See the Study Notes for July 3, 2011(097)].
2. We [are] by nature "Jews" and not "sinners" from among the nations [See Study Notes for July 10, 2011(099)].
3. But knowing that a man is not justified by works of the Law, but by faith of Jesus Christ... [See Study Notes for July 17, 2011(101)].
4. ...even we believed into Christ Jesus in order that we might be justified by faith of Christ and not by works of law... [See Study Notes for July 31, 2011(103)].
5. ...because by works of law shall no flesh be justified [See Study Notes for July 31, 2011(103)].
6. Now, if seeking to be justified in Christ we are found also ourselves sinners, do we conclude that Christ [is] a servant of sin? Absolutely not [See Study Notes for Aug. 7, 2011(105)].
7. If I build again what things I destroyed, I establish myself as a transgressor [See Study Notes for Aug. 14, 2011(107)].
8. For I through law died to law in order that I might live to/for God [See Study Notes for Aug. 21, 2011(109)].
9. I have been crucified with Christ; I live but no longer [as] I, but Christ lives in me ... [See Study Notes for Aug. 28, 2011(111)].
10. The "now life" that I am living in the flesh ... [See Study Notes for Sept. 4, 2011(113)].
11. The faith which is of the Son of God Who loved me ... [See Study Notes for Sept. 11(115), 18(117), and 25(119), 2011]
12. I do not frustrate the grace of God... [See Study Notes for Oct. 2, 2011(121)].
13. If righteousness is through law, then Christ died "freely" (or "in vain" as the AV translates it).
a. Paul's thesis is not whether righteousness is "by the law" (AV) as if the intermediate agent is the Law of Moses, it is whether righteousness can even be attached to "law" as a fundamental principle.
b. Paul's use of the term translated "in vain" (AV) is interesting indeed since most of the uses of the term in the New Testament are in contexts where it means "without requiring or making some kind of 'payment' ".
1) The heart of the word "dorean" (translated "in vain") is focused upon the dynamics of the situation in which a thing is done in a way that fits "dorean". Those dynamics are invariably opposite to something "legal" in which an action is tied to some kind of "obligation". For a thing to be "dorean", it has to be both without legal obligation as its instigation and without legal obligation as its result. It is not done of legal necessity and it does not create a legal necessity as an outcome of the action taken. In other words, it has to be done "freely" and without creating "obligation" after the fact. Probably the best translation option is "without cause" or "without reason".
2) In Paul's thought, if a person could obtain a decree of righteousness from God by means of a legal evaluation of his/her behavior, the death of Christ would have lost its "reason for being". Clearly, Paul conceives of only one way to obtain such a decree so that if one way is effective, all others are rendered, at the minimum, "unnecessary".
3) Since Christ is the Son of God (deity incarnate, dead and resurrected), nothing is of greater significance than to be clear on why He died. To introduce death into the Godhead is no small thing. Our greatest means for understanding that is the continuous warning throughout the Scriptures of everlasting punishment away from the presence of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1:9); the on-going "death" of those who go to that place where the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44) so that they, though "dead", do not cease to be feelingly aware and the smoke of their torment ascends forever without end and they have no rest (Revelation 14:11). Since it was to avert that disaster (for those who "believe") that Christ died, our grasp of that death must come from the magnitude of the disaster. Thus, the Christ, the Son of God Who loved and gave Himself, introduced death into the reality of the Godhead for a genuine reason: to avert an eternal disaster by being an eternal sacrifice. Thus, when Paul says that there is a "possibility" that something might negate that death, we must understand exactly what it is that could undercut such love. And Paul says it is this: approaching the issue of being made sufficiently righteous to stand before God uncondemned through "law" -- the practice of the principles of "obligation" and "reciprocation", or, as Moses said it, "do the statutes and judgments that you may live" (Deuteronomy 4:1). No flesh shall be justified by this approach (Galatians 2:16).
4) The conclusion, then, is that Christ's death would be rendered "dorean" if it is seen as an unnecessary adjunct to justification by "law". The issue of "dorean" is, then, the issue of being "unnecessary". To subscribe to a lack of necessity for the worst event in the eternal experience of God is beyond reason. God would never have allowed His Son's involvement in a system that had a perfectly good solution to the problem(s). Paul was not saying that Christ's death would be "ineffective"; he was saying that it was "needless". This is the sharpest point in the debate about whether man's behavior can successfully withstand the searching scrutiny of divine, legal, investigation. For his part, Paul was clearly obsessed with the historical reality of the introduction of "death" into the infinite experience of the Godhead (Galatians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 1:23; and the enormously significant statement of 1 Corinthians 2:2).